Networking

Peter Cochrane's Blog: Wi-fi activism

If enough of us whinge and complain, maybe we can get free wi-fi

Written in the lobby of a nice new London hotel that shall remain nameless, and despatched via an abnormally free wi-fi link to silicon.com

I have just been booked into a new hotel by a sponsoring company which is employing me most of the day tomorrow. The check-in was slick, the hotel staff obviously trying very hard and the service is excellent. The decor is very nice and the whole place is very clean and smart - so no complaints.

Before I arrived my PA had already checked out the availability of high-speed wi-fi access here and 20 minutes ago I looked all set to get some work done. I got a coffee, set up in the library and tried to log on. But in some perverse mode I have never seen before, my log-on screen came up with a verification number that I have to take to reception to gain authorised access. Ho hum, what fun - I have plenty of time to waste!

So having got authorised I'm now presented with a new screen demanding a payment of 30p per minute. What? But the good news (not) is they have a price cap of £20 per day! They gotta be kidding, really kidding.

I present them with the alternative model of free access because it costs nothing to provide the service and if it is free I'll be back but if not, I won't. And by the way there is a free access-point that serves coffee and food only a block away.

After a bit of arm wresting the management make me an offer of half price, ie only £10 per day. I don't think so! I make to pack up and leave - and they suddenly decide to make an exception and give me free access, plus a free room upgrade. So here I am, at last, all set to get some work done but it cost me 20 minutes of hassle and downtime. It might not seem like much but a third of an hour is really worth having, as is the lack of a £20 or £10 payment.

I am suddenly aware that I have slipped into the American mode of complaining in real-time on the spot, and not the polite EU mode which consists of writing a letter of complaint later in the week from my home. I gave them the full facts on the hotel operating costs, facilities charges, soap, towels, bedclothes and so on to contrast with the less than £1 per day for wi-fi provision. They don't charge me separately for the former so why the latter?

Anyway, the point is, if enough of us whinge and complain, and refuse to stay in hotels that levy absurd charges, we can change the world - a bit at a time. In about 10 years the EU might just catch up with North America, and perhaps the productivity will improve too? Now, to make up that lost one-third of an hour...

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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